Why Do We Love Noah?
While walking down the aisle of my local toy store with my kids, I counted
three different sets of Noah and his tub of animals. While you can order them
online, I have yet to see the Jesus Action-figure there, or any other religious
toy… well, except for elves and whatnot in December.
What is it about this story that is so heart-warming and viewed as universal
that we want to give our kids non-waterproof boats with giraffe heads sticking
out the top?
What follows are some ideas as to why we do and some thoughts about why we shouldn't.
People, and their memories, seem to be wrapped in events. The more calamitous
the event, the more it is etched into our brains, the more we refer to it,
and the more we talk about it. This is understandable, as it is how we understand
an event or situation, and it is how we finally accept it. This is part of our
Besides, tragedies makes much better stories. Can you imagine asking your
grandmother for a story, and she goes on with, "Well, in 1939, nothing much
happened. Then in 1940, we didn't get as many peas planted as I would have
liked, but not much else happened…"
The point of any story is to tell something significant, and more often than
not, we talk calamities. And these calamities can be pretty universal… wars,
famines, meteorites, volcanoes, psycho-ex-girlfriends, and yes, floods. From
the perspective of a small group of people, a calamity feels like it affects
the whole world.
In the 1800's there was a great debate among geologists between the
catastrophists (who believed that mountains and all geological artifacts were
created quickly by calamities) and the uniformitarianists (who believed that
these same artifacts were done gradually over millions of years).
While the correct answer is actually a fusion of both opinions, it was the
general population (spurred by many preachers) that supported the catastrophists.
In fact, the fundamentalists continue to adhere strictly to this opinion in
their attempt at keeping the world's creation within Biblical time-frames.
But if we are telling children the Noah story, then yeah, maybe it is best to let
them play with the animals in order to come to grips with such a terrible,
Anne Provoost, author of the book In the Shadow of the Ark, was interviewed
by Bill Moyers for his PBS special, Faith and Reason, and related the
Before I had children, I was already collecting their books, you know.
And there's a wonderful book that I'm sure many people here in the United
States will know or remember. It's a picture book by Peter Spier. And it only
has pictures. But it's the story of Noah and the ark. It's an old book and
what you see, at some point, is you see the animals embark. And then you'll
see a bunch of animals sitting outside in one frame, and then in the next
frame, in the next picture, you'll see… they all have
wet feet. And in the next picture, you only see the trunk of the elephant
right above water level, and the nostrils of the giraffe. And in the next
picture, all you see is water. And that was really, really confrontational
Later on in the interview, Bill Moyers asks her about her new book:
Did you write this story as a mother…of three children? Because
the children…who died in the great flood…were neither righteous nor
unrighteous. And yet, they perished by the tens of thousands, if you want
to believe this story.
To that, she responded:
They play an important part in the book where you know they're drowning.
And [in] describing them, they're wearing beautiful gowns because they
were loved by their parents… no parent will ever think, "I have a bad
child, it deserves to drown."
In every boatload of animals at the toy store, there is an exact number of
animals that can fit on the boat. No one gets left behind. It certainly would
be a cruel joke to have an ark with unicorns that don't fit.
But what about the message this story tells about the nature of God? Are you
sure it is the message you want to afflict your children with? I have
heard before that these stories "demonstrates God's love by showing
how he saves those who obey him."
But God wasn't saving Noah from some great calamity, but simply from himself.
Once again, from the interview of Anne Provoost by Bill Moyers:
Provoost: The order, you know, the idea of the flood is coming from that
God. He's choosing, and that's, you know, he's not choosing because he wants
to save the people for an evil that he doesn't have any power over. It's his
evil, which is the flood.
Moyers: At first you think he's saving a good man from a calamity. Then
you realize he's saving Noah from a good God who is also a bad God. This God
is one and the same, good and bad.
Provoost: Right. And this God is destroying his own creation. So, you
wonder, you know, why do you create something that will turn out to be this
bad? And then you're going to probably punish them for it? Maybe
there's something wrong in the making.
This is the central philosophical argument called the "Problem of Evil",
and it presence is a pretty large hole at the bottom of the ark. For
Bill Moyers really hit the nail when he said, "Can you trust a God who
doesn't get it right?"
I believe that Bill Moyers is a deeply contemplative, if not religious, man,
and so he has probably come up with his own answer to this "problem"… Just as,
I suppose, every other religious and thinking Christian has. And maybe wrestling
with such an angel is good for children to embark early in life.
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